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APRIL 19-20, 2002 8 IYAR 5762

Pop Quiz: How long after planting a new tree must one wait before eating its fruit?


"You should not curse the deaf." (Vayikra 19:14)

The Rabbis tell us that although the exact prohibition is not to curse the one who can't hear, this is to teach us that if we are not permitted to curse someone who won't be hurt by it, how much more so should we be careful not to hurt someone with our words. However, an additional lesson from this is that the laws of Hashem are coming mainly for our benefit, not only to protect others. When a person utters a curse of someone who is deaf, although he did not harm the other person, he himself becomes affected with his own words. We become spiteful when we talk in a nasty way. When we cheat or lie or insult, the main victim is the one who uttered the words. Therefore, the Torah teaches us that even cursing a deaf person does some damage to the one who said the curse. We can infer from this that when we speak nicely to others, giving compliments, praise and the like, not only are we causing pleasure to others, but we ourselves become better people. When we do something good for others or say words which inspire and encourage, we feel good about it because we just became better through it besides the benefit that others had from our words or deed. Let's remember that the next time we have a chance to say something to others. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"Aharon shall place lots upon the two he-goats." (Vayikra 16:8)

Our perashah begins with a description of the Yom Kippur service that took place in the Mishkan, and later in the Bet Hamikdash. Part of the service was the bringing of two male goats (se'irim). One goat was to become a national sin-offering (hatat) that would be ritually slaughtered and placed on the altar to atone for the nation's sins. The second goat was to become the bearer of all the people's sins, as it were, and be pushed over a cliff in the desert. This was called se'ir la'azazel. In order to decide which goat becomes an offering to Hashem and which one was going to be given to Azazel, a lottery was used.

In last week's perashah, we learned about the purification process used for the mesorah - the leper. Two birds were taken, one was slaughtered and the other was sent away to an open field. How was it decided which one was slaughtered and which one lived? It is surprising to learn that it was decided arbitrarily! Logically and reasonably, it would seem that the two he-goats, both of which would die, should be decided arbitrarily, and the two birds, facing a decision of life and death, should be decided by the Divine decision of the goral - lottery.

Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz explains that the Torah wants to teach us an important lesson - that man's most important decision in life is not necessarily a life or death judgment. More important than the question of who shall live and who shall die is the question of who will be for Hashem and who will be for Azazel. One goat was to be sanctified as a holy offering, and one goat was to be given over to be a "scapegoat" for our sins. The Torah is teaching us that the decision and determination of how one lives his life is far more serious than the question of life and death. The Torah's scale of priorities is not necessarily the one accepted by man and society. A life dedicated to Hashem is one in which man, through Torah and misvot, prepares himself for his ultimate destination in the next world. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"You shall observe My decrees...and live by them" (Vayikra 18:5)

The misvot of the Torah were given for the sake of life - not death. We generally accept that the concept of mesirat nefesh, self-sacrifice, is a reference to one who is prepared to give up his life for Hashem. Rav Schach posits that this is not the Torah's intent. Rather, mesirat nefesh is defined by man's devotion to "live" as a Jew - despite challenging situations. The Torah values human life, demanding that we maintain a lifestyle of Torah and misvot throughout our lifetime.

We find that during the last moments, as they were scraping the skin off his body with metal combs, Rabbi Akiba, the greatest martyred Tanna, accepted upon himself the yoke of Malchut Shamayim, the Kingdom of Heaven, by reciting the Shema. Indeed, he prolonged the recitation of the word "echad," which proclaims the unity of Hashem, until his soul's departure from his body coincided with his utterance of this word. This was all done so that he could perform the misvah with remarkable mesirat nefesh. One would think that Rabbi Akiba was demonstrating the importance of giving up one's life for the sake of Heaven.

Rav Schach feels that Hazal convey a different message. They state, "When Rabbi Akiba was taken out to be executed, it happened to be time for keriat Shema." Rabbi Akiba refused to permit the debilitating pain and anguish to deter him from reciting the Shema. Thus, he recited it despite the cruel torture which he was undergoing. Hence, we infer that Rabbi Akiba's pre-eminence was not a result of the fact that he gave up his life to perform a misvah. Rather, his greatness was that he continued to observe the misvot despite the terrible conditions and pain to which he was subjected.

A Jew's obligation is to serve Hashem and observe the Torah his entire life, even under the most desperate situations. Even in his last moments in this world, he was alive and consequently mandated to serve Hashem! Rabbi Akiba did not die with mesirat nefesh, he lived with mesirat nefesh. Rav Schach illuminates for us the focus and perspective that a Torah Jew must demonstrate. (Peninim on the Torah)


This week's Haftarah: Yehezkel 20:2-20

In this haftarah, Hashem commands the people of Israel to remove themselves from the idol worship which the other nations were involved in. By following Hashem's decrees, and rejecting the ways of the other nations, we would become a holy nation to Hashem. Kedoshim, this week's 2nd perashah, also gives many commands to reject the ways of the other nations in order to become kedoshim, holy to Hashem.

Answer to pop quiz: Three years; on the 4th year he may eat it, but only in Jerusalem.

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